Most soups are pretty comforting food – they're warm, tasty, and satisfying. But cream soups are even more special. They have a velvety texture and a creamy smoothness that make them just as perfect for a fancy restaurant as for a warm meal with the family.
If you go to the grocery store, you'll find rows and rows of canned Cream of This and Cream of That. And if you browse online, you'll find thousands of recipes that use these condensed cream soups.
But what if you just want the soup? Well, the fact is, all those canned soups are alright, but they'll never ever compare to a homemade cream soup made right.
A homemade soup has so much more flavor, and it's just better for you!
No preservatives, no strange chemicals, and you control everything that goes in. If you have to restrict your salt intake, it's as easy as getting a smaller measuring spoon.
So what exactly is a cream soup? Well, as you can guess from the name, the thing that really makes it a cream soup is... cream! Or at the very least, milk.
What about the rest? Well, in this article, I'll tell you all about cream soups. First, I'll go over the three basic elements that make up a cream soup: the base, the thickener, and the cream. Then I'll talk about how to put them together to make a delicious cream soup.
Every cream soup has a base. It's the soup's major component, and the part that adds the most flavor.
In most cases, the base of a cream soup is a vegetable puree.
For some cream soups, however, you wouldn't really want to use a vegetable puree. For example, a cream of chicken soup really only needs chicken stock as a base, with maybe a few aromatics and some pieces of cooked chicken added and then pureed.
The next element in cream soups is the thickener. This is what gives the soup most of its awesome texture – everything except the creaminess, and possibly some chunkiness from the vegetables.
There are a few ways to thicken a soup.
The best way to thicken a cream soup is by making a roux, and it's not at all complicated. Just take equal parts butter and flour, and melt the butter over medium low heat. Then just whisk in the flour and cook it until it's well blended and starts to lose its raw flour smell.
A good guideline is to use 1 tablespoon of flour for every 2 cups of liquid you have, but adjust to your taste.
Roux is especially good with a cream soup because it doesn't just thicken – it also helps prevent the milk or cream from separating.
Another way to thicken the soup is with a slurry, a mixture of cold liquid (water, wine, stock, etc), and a bit of flour or cornstarch. Just add the flour to the cold liquid and stir or shake very vigorously, until you have a smooth paste. Then whisk the paste into your soup.
It's a bit simpler than the roux, but you have to be careful to mix the slurry very well before putting it in your hot soup, or you'll end up with floury, gooey lumps.
If you're using a flour slurry, you'll have to cook it in the soup for a longish while, until it starts to lose its raw flour taste.
Cornstarch is easier to use, but it gives a somewhat different texture than flour, and it's generally not as appealing. It tends to be a little more jelly-like, and even gummy if you add too much.
You can also thicken a soup using egg yolks and cream. Just mix egg yolks and cream in a small bowl until blended, then slowly add a bit of hot soup to the bowl and mix, to heat up the egg. Then, pour the egg yolk mixture back into the soup.
Use about 1 tablespoon of cream and 1 egg yolk for each cup of soup to thicken.
It's important to heat the eggs slowly or you'll end up with scrambled eggs in your soup – that's why you gently heat them before placing them in the soup.
It's best to serve the soup immediately after adding the eggs. The egg yolk mixture will thicken really nicely, but it's not super stable. If you heat the soup too much, the eggs will coagulate (again, scrambled egg soup).
Thickening the soup with egg yolks and cream gives a wonderfully thick, silky texture.
Finally, you can thicken soup with a puree. Of course, we're already doing that, as described in the previous section, but that's not quite enough for a good cream soup.
If you want extra thickness, add some rice, raw grated potato or beans to your vegetables while they're cooking. When everything is fully cooked, puree the whole thing.
Be sure your thickener is fully cooked, or your soup might end up with a grainy texture.
This will thicken the soup, but it definitely won't add the same kind of silky smoothness as using a roux would.
All of these thickeners will work to thicken any soup, not just cream soups.
Most thickeners don't freeze well.
If you're planning on having lots of leftover soup, set some of your vegetable puree aside and freeze it for later.
You can thicken it when you defrost it, and then add milk and cream.
The potato, rice or bean thickening is an exception to this rule.
Alright, so we know that cream soups are made up of a base, usually a vegetable puree, and thickened with some kind of thickener, usually a roux. The very last step is what really makes it a cream soup – the cream.
Of course, cream isn't really the healthiest thing around, but luckily you can make a delicious cream soup with half-and-half, whole, or even skim milk.
The texture will be a bit different for each, of course – cream is, well, creamier – but if you use a good thickener, you'll still end up with a wonderful soup.
You might even prefer a lighter soup. Cream soups made with real cream have an awesome texture and flavor, but they can be a bit heavy and rich.
The amount of cream you use is up to you, but a good guideline is 1/2 a cup of milk per cup of vegetable puree. You can use a bit less if you're using cream rather than milk.
Now that we know what the different elements are, we'll learn how to put them all together to make any type of cream soup you like.
Although I described how to use a bunch of different thickeners, in this section I'll just focus on the roux, which I think is the best for a cream soup. If you want to use another thickener though, check out the notes at the bottom of this section.
Here's what you'll need to make a cream soup:
Some aromatics, like onions, leeks, or garlic.
Use as much as you like. 1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic per pound of vegetables is a good place to start, but adjust as you like.
A vegetable base, if desired, like asparagus, broccoli or celery.
Each pound of vegetable will yield about 8 servings of soup.
Chop the vegetables so that they'll cook nicely. At this point, you can save some of the vegetables for garnish – like the tips on asparagus, or pretty broccoli florets.
A meat base, like chicken. The stock will provide some flavor, but you can also add in a few cups of chopped cooked chicken to puree and to garnish.
Chicken stock. You can use vegetable stock, too, but it won't add the same texture or flavor to the soup.
You'll need enough to cover the vegetables so that they can cook. The more stock you add, the thinner the puree will be.
Butter. You'll need some to saute the aromatics, and some to make the roux.
A few tablespoons of flour for the roux, about 1 tablespoon for each 2 cups of liquid. You can add more or less depending on how thick you like your soup. If you're using cream rather than milk, you don't need to use as much flour to thicken.
You'll need milk, or cream. The amount is up to you. You can use a cup of milk for each cup or two of puree, or more or less as you like it. Start with less rather than more – you can always add more milk!
If you're using cream rather than milk, you don't need to add as much, unless you like a very rich soup.
Spices. Salt and pepper work well, and depending on what vegetables you use you can add some other spices, like thyme, nutmeg, ginger... anything you like.
It's a good idea to season the soup as the last step. It's much easier to gauge how much to put, because you can taste as you go.
And here's how you put it all together to make a cream soup:
Finely chop your aromatics and saute them in a bit of butter.
Add the chicken stock and the chopped vegetables. Simmer covered until the vegetables are soft – about 20 minutes depending on the vegetable you used and the size of the pieces.
If you reserved some of the vegetables for garnish, cook them apart until they're just soft. Steaming usually works well. You can even steam them above your simmering soup!
Puree the vegetables with the stock. Set the puree aside in a bowl.
It's easiest if you have an immersion blender.
You can use a regular blender too. Just be careful not to overfill your container, and watch out – the puree will get hotter in the blender, so make sure it doesn't bubble and splash you when you open your container.
In the same pot you cooked the vegetables, melt some butter. Add an equal amount of flour and cook over medium low heat until the mixture is blended and loses its raw flour taste – this is the roux.
Slowly add the milk or cream to the roux, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and heat until the sauce is smooth and thick.
Add the puree, stir, and season.
Serve, add garnish to the bowls, and enjoy!
If you want to thicken using a slurry, you can simply add it to the puree, and then add the milk.
If you want to thicken using egg yolks and cream, add the milk to the puree, stir, and then add the egg yolk thickener last and serve immediately.
If you want to thicken using potatoes, beans, or rice, just cook them with the vegetables and puree.
If you want to freeze the soup, it's best to just freeze the puree, and add the thickener (except for the puree thickener) and milk when you defrost.
Try freezing in small portion with instructions on how much milk or thickener to add. It'll make your life easier later!
Depending on the type of vegetable you use, you may need to use more or less. For example, mushrooms can have a very subtle flavor, and you may want to double the amount you'd use of another vegetable.
Well, that's all there is to making a delicious cream of anything soup. Try it out... it's easier than the great taste would make you think!